Meet the Author: Michael Fitzgerald

DominicLorrimerMichael Fitzgerald is a writer and art magazine editor living in Sydney. His first novel, The Pacific Room (2017), was developed through a Varuna Publisher Fellowship; his second, Pietà, is being released in June 2021, also through Transit Lounge Publishing. His literary work has also appeared in magazines such as Kill Your Darlings and Westerly. He is Editor of Art Monthly Australasia.

AUTHOR INSIGHT

Why do you write? This is something I’ve never really asked myself, and I wonder if it would be dangerous for me to find out at this late stage. Sometimes it’s best just to keep doing what you instinctively feel you need to do. With writing especially, I think there’s a danger in overthinking things. I’ll leave that up to actors to ponder: What’s my motivation?

What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? A strange dream of mine would be to be a casting agent.

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? Life constantly interrupting and intervening. How dare it! … While my novels have been relatively short (in length) so far, they have taken me SO LONG to write.

How involved have you been in the development of your book? Did you have input into the cover? Yes. I’m not sure how it is elsewhere, but at Transit Lounge my experience has been especially collaborative and creative.

What’s the best aspect of your writing life? Being solitary and alone. It’s thrilling and scary, but very quickly things scribbled into notebooks and onto a computer screen begin to fill the void. And soon stories and characters flood your head and have a life of their own through this strangely mechanical and meditative process of pushing a pen or typing at a keyboard. I also love swimming for the same reason.

—the worst? Not having the time to write.

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? To maybe think less about what other people might think, and to not try and second-guess what readers (or publishers) might want – but, at the same, not to ignore them, and to learn to lean into them a little more productively and meaningfully. Sorry if I’ve totally contradicted myself here, but I’m obviously in two minds!

What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? Nothing in particular, because I think it’s important for everyone to follow and find their own path and to sometimes stumble and grope around in the dark. That’s how I’ve done it, and I can’t imagine anything different.

What’s the best advice you were ever given? To never submit or press ‘send’ until a piece is absolutely finished and ready – though of course knowing when the moment is right is a whole other thing. I’m still not entirely sure … So, on second thoughts, maybe the best advice is something smaller and more technical – like Margaret Atwood saying (in the Paris Review I think) that the key to proofreading is a good ruler, and going through the text line by line.

What’s your top tip for aspiring authors? Embrace the difficulty. It definitely doesn’t get any easier as you get older. I’m 56, but sometimes I feel like I’m still starting out. So, finding a voice, and the best narrative vehicle to express it is something I’m still wrestling with. It’s part of an ongoing process that never stops. Keep wrestling!

How important is social media to you as an author? I haven’t succumbed to Facebook or Twitter (perhaps to my detriment), but I do enjoy Instagram (I’m @mf.novelist). When you’re writing (or editing all day like I am), it’s sometimes nice to do it with images. And I’ve found and friended other writers on Instagram, some of whom use it in interesting ways ‘to share and connect’ (those ubiquitous words). Though it’s sometimes difficult to find the right tone and to avoid appearing gloating and self-obsessed – those ugly hallmarks of social media. Of course, occasional ‘digital detox’ is essential for any writer.

Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? As I mature and life gets more crowded and noisier, the writing bit of writing is not so much the challenge, but blocking out periods of solitary time is. For me time, and it’s perhaps a cliché to say, time and silence is key. Finding myself up at Varuna, The Writers House late last year, and faced with a week’s residency and with no particular goal in mind – and no distractions – was heavenly. I ended up writing short stories, one of which will be published in Westerly magazine this year. The experience took me back to the two weeks I spent in a convent in Rome, researching Pietà.

How do you deal with rejection? Stoically, and to immediately latch onto another hopeful or positive opportunity – there are so many these days. And to learn to love your ugly ducklings and to keep trying to turn them into swans. I have also been meaning to maintain a special ‘rejections’ notebook, as there have been so many over the years, and to keep this as a badge of honour.

In three words, how would you describe your writing? Different each time.

If you had the chance to spend an hour with any writer of your choice, living or dead, who would it be and what would you most like them to tell you about living a writing life? Patricia Highsmith or Tennessee Williams. They both transgressed conservative convention in postwar America – one through spare, eviscerating psychological thrillers, the other through poetic and transcendent prose and plays. I would just like to hear them speak, look at their quizzical faces, and spend time in their writing studios while perhaps passively inhaling their cigarette smoke – you can always find out so much from the physical spaces writers inhabit.

BOOK BYTE

Pieta

These are the last days of 1999. At St Peter’s Basilica in Rome, as the world waits for the new millennium, Lucy, a young Australian woman looks up at Michelangelo’s Pietà behind its pane of bullet-proof glass; a red kabbalah string circles her wrist. She has come with the mysterious parcel her recently deceased mother asked her to bring to the box marked POSTE VATICANE.

But before Rome there is Saint-Cloud. Here, on the outskirts of Paris, Lucy works as an au pair for Jean-Claude and his wife Mathilde. When Mathilde leaves for Central Australia to research the Aboriginal artist Kumanjayi, Lucy’s circle of contacts becomes smaller and strangely intimate: Jean-Claude, the baby Felix for whom she cares, and the couple’s charismatic friend Sébastien, a marble restorer.

Yet Lucy’s homesickness for Australia and its vastness haunts her world, surfacing in the memories of her mother, the Australian garden at Empress Joséphine’s Malmaison, and Mathilde’s letters from Alice Springs. Lucy’s mother, Jude, who was a nun in the 1970s, once warned her daughter ‘to be careful what she wished for’. It is a caution that marks but rarely alters the choices these characters make.

With lushness and tenderness, and revelation, Fitzgerald’s unforgettable novel Pietà exquisitely captures the glorious and imperfect relationships between parents and children, between art and life.

Buy the book here.

Meet the Author: Angela O’Keeffe

Angela’s top tip for aspiring authors: Read.  Ponder the experience of reading.  Reading as a writer is an art in itself.

Angela O'Keeffe =

Angela O’Keeffe grew up on a farm in South East Queensland and now lives in Sydney. She completed a Master of Arts in Writing at UTS and has had short stories published in literary journals. Night Blue is her first book.

AUTHOR INSIGHT

Why do you write? We can’t ever get into the head of another human but we can imagine ourselves into anyone and anything, whether fictional or real.  For me, writing is the best and most exhilarating way of doing that.  It’s my prism for experiencing the world.

What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? As far as having some sort of prism for experiencing the world I can’t imagine being happy with anything that wasn’t related to the arts.  I would pick acting, I think, as there is that similar aspect of inhabiting a character, of stepping beyond the boundary of the self and in some way experiencing the other.

What was the toughest obstacle to becoming published? The toughest obstacle was me.  I wrote probably three or four novels over the years, and a couple of those got initial interest from publishers that then didn’t go anywhere. I really took to heart the adages about writing “what you know” and “showing not telling” and in hindsight I think I let those adages sort of shackle me.  In 2016 I went to Varuna, The National Writers House, for a “Conversations with Writers” workshop with Peter Bishop and he talked about allowing the writing “to breathe” and something just clicked for me.  I realised I could step into a space where I didn’t know “what I knew”, a space where there was not necessarily a distinction between “showing and telling,” and things just got better from there.  I wrote the first pages of Night Blue soon after that.

How involved were you in the development of your book.  Did you have input into the cover? Barry from Transit Lounge really loved the book; from the start there was an openness, a common understanding.  He has this way in his emails of saying little but meaning much, and I just felt really supported. Yet he was ready to push back when he felt he needed to, and I really appreciated that too.  There was a small change I wanted to make in the final edit that he didn’t agree with.  In hindsight he was probably right.  There comes a point where the writer just has to let go of the work.  Barry sent me five or six cover designs by Peter Lo, and asked me to choose my top three.  The decision was never going to be mine alone – it wasn’t my department – but it was wonderful to be invited into that process.  I love the cover that Peter designed for Night Blue; for me it speaks its own exquisite language to what is inside the book.

What is the best aspect of your writing life? The sense of freedom and discovery.

The worst? Being deep in it and knowing I have to break to do the shopping.

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? For me, this question is quite useless.  I wouldn’t know what I know now if things had been different.  And I wouldn’t know it in the way I know it.  For me, that’s impressive and I’m unwilling to walk myself back from that.

What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? I’m tempted to answer same as above, but I do wish I’d been told that it’s best not to write with an open packet of biscuits within reach.  But I stumbled on this pretty quickly on my own.

What’s the best advice you were ever given? In class at UTS Glenda Adams said something about when writing a first draft to let “everything in”; she said it was “like gathering flowers”, and she made these gestures of reaching left and right.  I always loved that.

How important is social media to you as a writer? Right now it plays a role in letting people know about Night Blue.  It also helps me come across writers, artists, podcasts that I find inspiring.  I’ve had lovely connections with other writers on Instagram; it was through Instagram that Favel Parrett kindly agreed to write a commendation for Night Blue.  The downside is that it can be a vacuous time waster.  A bit like sugar, use in moderation.

Do you experience “writer’s block” and if so, how do you overcome it? I don’t experience a block as such; I can always write.  It’s more a matter of whether the writing is any good.  If I’m really not happy with how it’s going I usually stop and go for a walk.  I live near the ocean and just walking by it is an expansive experience.  On the way back I might stop at the shops and buy items for a meal, and often by the time I’m cooking the onions something has shifted in the writing – in the way I see it and feel it – and I’ll know what it needs.

How do you deal with rejection? Cry.  Vow never to write again.  Go for a walk.  Realise I want to keep at it.

In three words how would you describe your writing? Poetic.  Accessible.  Arresting.

If you had the chance to spend an hour with any writer of your choice, living or dead, who would it be and what would you most want them to tell you about living a writing life? Franz Kafka.  He once wrote that “a book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us.” I’d want to ask him about that.

BOOK BYTE

Night BluePotent, haunting and lyrical, Night Blue is a narrative largely told in the voice of the painting Blue Poles. It is an original and absorbing approach to revisiting Jackson Pollock and his wife Lee Krasner as artists and people, as well as a realigning our ideas around the cultural legacy of Whitlam’s purchase of Blue Poles in 1973.
It is also the story of Alyssa, and a contemporary relationship, in which O’Keeffe immerses us in the essential power of art to change our personal lives and, by turns, a nation.
Moving between New York and Australia with fluid ease, Night Blue is intimate and tender, yet surprisingly dramatic. It is a glorious exploration of how art must never be undervalued.

Buy the book here.

Meet the Author: Belinda Lyons-Lee

Belinda’s top tip for aspiring authors: Don’t. Give. Up.

Belinda Lyons-LeeBelinda Lyons-Lee was born in Geelong, Australia and still lives in the region with her husband and son. She has degrees in youth work, education, writing and literature. Belinda has been teaching English and creative writing in high schools for nearly twenty years and the nineteenth century has been an obsession of hers for even longer. Belinda has had various articles published that explore writing, vocation, mental health and creativity. Tussaud is her debut novel. Find out more about Belinda at http://www.blyonslee.com

Author Insight

Why do you write? I write because I love to escape and inhabit the times and places I create, because I want to discover something about what it means to be human, to try and make sense of my own, and other people’s lives. I read for the same reasons.

What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? I’d be drawing, painting or messing around with clay whilst balancing teaching English. The same life I have now but swap out the writing for another form of creative expression!

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? I can’t remember who to attribute the quote to but it goes something like – ‘It’s not what happens to you but what happens within you that defines who you are’. There’s been a lot of ‘stuff’ that has happened to me along my writing journey, the usual culprits of rejections, set-backs and disappointments. However like Marie in my novel, I had to instead concentrate on what was happening within me, my reactions, my self-talk and find a way through it all.

How involved have you been in the development of your book? Did you have input into the cover? My publisher (Transit Lounge) has been incredibly supportive in terms of opening dialogue about each step in the publishing process. I can say the same about the editing process – Kate Goldsworthy was amazing in the way she connected and understood not only the technical details of the writing itself, but the deeper, richer essence of the novel that shines through now more clearly because of her attentions. Talking through the front and back cover was very exciting. Josh Durham, the designer, is so very clever and physically captured the mood of the novel perfectly. I actually sent the publisher and Josh a Pinterest board of the sort of covers I loved early on in the process to help frame the look I ideally wanted. Josh came up with a few designs that were all equally impressive but in the end the publisher and I both felt that this one, the one that you see now, was the best representation of the mood of the story.

What’s the best aspect of your writing life? The very first draft. So much energy, momentum!

 —the worst? Sometimes the technical details of spelling, grammar, punctuation and then chapter length, refinement of sentences, plot holes, inconsistencies etc. This requires a different sort of energy and headspace. Sometimes it’s hard to balance out the two when one, for me, is much more fun than the other!

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? Celebrate the small accomplishments.

What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? That writing requires an enormous amount of determination and sheer stubbornness.

What’s the best advice you were ever given? I’ve had this quote by Neil Gaiman as my screen saver for about seven years. That tells you something about how highly I rate this advice! ‘Start telling the stories only you can tell. Because there will always be better writers than you and there will always be smarter writers than you. There will always be people who are much better at doing this -or doing that – but you are the only you.’

How important is social media to you as an author? It’s wonderful as a way to connect with readers and people in the ‘writing world’ but I guess like anything, it can quickly turn into a time sucking diversion.

Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? If I feel a piece lagging, losing energy or momentum, I find it’s because, as William Kenower (?) I think has said, I’m no longer curious about it anymore and perhaps have even lost confidence in myself, my idea and my ability. So the moments I ‘drop out’, I switch to writing another scene or chapter or go sideways into historical research and then maybe approach it slyly again the next day or the day after. This seems to have worked so far…

How do you deal with rejection? Generally I deal with rejection by allowing myself time to feel the sting, hours, days, whatever is needed until the ‘noise’ of it begins to dissipate. Then I consciously remember to myself what the vision for that particular piece of work is and I get back in the chair and just keep going.

In three words, how would you describe your writing? Fictitious. Historical. Imaginative.

If you had the chance to spend an hour with any writer of your choice, living or dead, who would it be and what would you most like them to tell you about living a writing life? The hardest question ever – aside from name your favourite book! At this very moment in time, I would choose Daphne du Maurier. I read one of her biographies and was fascinated by her life and her complexities as a person. I would like to hear her thoughts on balancing the need she felt for solitude, the need to write and the need for intimate and social relationships.

Book Byte

Paris, 1810. Haunted by the French Revolution, Marie Tussaud has locked herself away in her shop with the death masks she was forced to make to avoid the guillotine.
Philidor, a famous magician, offers her the chance to accompany him to London to assist in creating a wax automaton that will bring them both money and success.
Following a disastrous performance on their opening night in which the wax on their prized spectacle melts, the eccentric Duke, William Cavendish, invites them to his rambling estate,
Welbeck, where he suggests they take up residence, use his underground ballroom for a new show and in return create a private commission for him: a wax automaton in the likeness of Elanor, a beautiful girl who mysteriously disappeared from the estate when he was a child.
In this delicious novel of twists and turns, Welbeck, with its locked doors and rooms, is full of secrets and no-one is who they seem. There is the seductive aura of Shelley, Dickens and Du Maurier in Tussaud. Marie must fight for survival in a world dominated by male advantage and power in a mesmerising story filled with wisdom about human behaviour and motivations.

Buy the book here.

Meet the Author: Sandi Scaunich

Sandi ScaunichSandi Scaunich’s career spans the fields of medical anthropology, women’s health, and diversity and inclusion. Her writing has appeared in various blogs, academic reports and The Age. She lives in Melbourne with her husband, three children and a very energetic Kelpie x named Pesca. Chasing the McCubbin is her first novel.

To find out more about Sandi, visit her website at www.sandiscaunich.com.au

AUTHOR INSIGHT

Why do you write? I’m not a big planner, so for me writing is an exciting and mysterious process of discovery that takes me out of my head and into the minds and bodies of my characters.

 What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? I (temporarily) stopped working in my career during the second lockdown. Until then, writing had been a side passion that I squeezed in around working and family. The kids are back at school now, which means I’ve been typing away freely, doing Q&As (ha!) – and gosh, it’s been lovely!

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? My career is outside the publishing industry, and therefore I had no comprehension of how it operated. Unsolicited or agent? Bulk submissions or one at a time? These questions, and many more, were complete unknowns to me. So I enrolled in several courses, but the publishing industry still seemed like an exclusive grand palace with guards and huge gates where only a selected few gained access. Eventually I broke through!

How involved have you been in the development of your book? Did you have input into the cover? When it came to editing and cover design, Transit Lounge were incredibly collaborative. Actually, I loved the first cover proof, so there was little back and forth!

What’s the best aspect of your writing life? The joy of creating a new story filled with unique characters that, in my mind, live and breathe.

 —the worst? Spending long hours at a keyboard isn’t great for the body! At the end of a writing session, I sometimes feel like I’ve aged ten years. And back and neck aches lead to headaches – so not great. I’ve integrated regular exercise and stretching into my weekly routine to counteract this. A must!

 What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? Hmm … Would I have the wisdom and knowledge I have now? If so, I’d ditch the expectation of a publisher responding almost instantly with a big, enthusiastic, accepting YES.

What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? That the publishing industry moves at glacial speed, and to expect rejections, often in the form of silence. Plus, I’d recommend attending as many pitch sessions as possible.

 What’s the best advice you were ever given? Graeme Simsion told me recently to keep my expectations realistic. This really resonated with me, as it’s about celebrating the wins and avoiding disappointment. An extreme example, but I see it like this: if an author is disappointed their book ‘only’ hit number 2 on the New York Best Sellers list, then said author (the J K Rowlings aside, of course) needs a reality check! It’s made it to the New York Times Best Sellers list! (On a side note, that’s not something I expect to be dealing with!)

What’s your top tip for aspiring authors? I am definitely in the debut writers’ camp of ‘write what you know’. Stick to a subject you’re passionate about and know intimately. And listen to your gut instincts. For instance, there was a moment in the early stages of writing Chasing the McCubbin when I toyed with the idea of changing Ron’s character. By way of background, Ron is meant to represent a modern reincarnation of the man in Frederick McCubbin’s famous painting ‘Down On His Luck’. In the 1800s, impressionist painters, such as McCubbin, were promoting the white male narrative through their works – the white man as explorer, worker, prospector, farmer, etc. In light of contemporary values, I was tempted to carve up this traditional narrative. But Ron was simply too clear in my mind to disregard. I could hear him speak, visualise his walk and see him pottering in the shed. So despite my brain urging me to sever the continuation of the white male narrative, my gut told me to stick with Ron. Likeable or not, progressive or not, he evolved authentically as I saw him. Authentic characters engage readers; if they’re not, they risk feeling more like vehicles. Trust your instincts, I reckon.

How important is social media to you as an author? I’m a bit of a technophobe, really. In fact, I’d avoid social media completely if I could! But, hey, it’s no longer 1991, the year Chasing the McCubbin is set. My most significant tech-related achievement of late was connecting my Instagram to Facebook and Twitter! As much as I’d ideally be happy to avoid social media, I do want to connect with readers, and therefore I’m making an effort to post regularly on Instagram (I rarely check Facebook and Twitter). I’ve even posted a few vids of me chatting to the camera – talk about progress!

Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? I don’t really believe in ‘writer’s block’. I think it might be more a crisis of confidence, although, luckily, I haven’t experienced it yet. Until recently, my biggest obstacle was finding the time to write – that was my personal block!

How do you deal with rejection? A Spritz Aperol and a blockbuster-action-type-movie. Like anything Marvel, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars

In three words, how would you describe your writing? Atmospheric. Sensitive. Honest.

If you had the chance to spend an hour with any writer of your choice, living or dead, who would it be and what would you most like them to tell you about living a writing life? Having a chat over coffee with Helen Garner would be a dream. I’d pick her brains about all-things-writers-life … I’m not fussed about what exactly. In fact, she could tell me her preferred breakfast cereal and I’d be interested. (Is that, um, creepy?!)

BOOK BYTE

Chasing the McCubbin

The Pines, an outer Melbourne suburb down on its luck. A country in the grip of recession.

Experienced collector Ron senses new possibilities: swift evictions provide hard-rubbish to scour and garage-sales have doubled. There’s only one problem: since losing his wife, Ron has struggled to navigate the suburbs alone. Plus, his deteriorating health slows him down.

This all changes through a chance meeting with Joseph, a troubled, withdrawn and unemployed 19-year old who knows nothing about antiques. As Joseph comes to understand and appreciate Ron’s world of eccentric bargain hunters, and hopefulness, his ability to navigate a history of family violence and to see a future for himself grows. Both come to share the wild dream of finding a rare bargain such as an original Frederick McCubbin painting and making their fortune. So begins an exhilarating adventure and an unlikely and beautiful friendship.

Set against the background of the early 1990s, Chasing the McCubbin is funny and sad in equal measure. A story of loneliness and the ageless desire for belonging, it will be the most heartbreaking yet feel-good novel you will read this year.

‘Truly fine writing with a great sense of characters and place, sympathetic and heartfelt without being sentimental, Scaunich pulls us into a fascinating world of low stakes and petty rivalries.’ GRAEME SIMSION, author of The Rosie Project

 ‘Authentic, subtle, evocative and alive.’ KATE RYAN

Buy the book here.

Meet the Author: Mary Garden

 

Mary’s top tip for aspiring authors: Find the best editor you can, and who suits your writing/genre.

Mary Garden has published widely in journals, magazines and newspapers, including The Humanist, The Australian Financial Review, The Guardian, The Northern Times, New Zealand Geographic, and Journalism: theory, practice & criticism.

She is the author of two books: The Serpent Rising: a journey of spiritual seduction, a memoir of her years spent in India in the 1970s entangled with flawed gurus and yoga teachers. It was first published in 1988, and reprinted in 2003 and 2019. Her latest book is Sundowner of the Skies: the story of Oscar Garden, the forgotten aviator, forgotten aviator, which was shortlisted for the NSW Premier’s History Award 2020. She holds a B.Ed. and a PhD in Journalism.

Born in New Zealand, Mary now lives in Maleny, in the Sunshine Coast hinterland, with her dog Ivy and cat Elsa.  

To find out more, visit

www.marygarden.com.au

AUTHOR INSIGHT

Why do you write? I’m compelled to write. To tell the truth, to shine a light on things.

What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? I did train to be a schoolteacher, and have taught for short periods, but teaching does not suit me. I like the solitariness of writing, so I’d probably be an artist.

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? My ignorance and lack of research. I should have read the ‘bible’ – Rhonda Whitton’s A Decent Proposal: How To Sell Your Book To An Australian Publisher. After a string of rejections, I emailed Sean Doyle at Lynk Manuscript Assessment. He rang me and said do you have a marketing proposal, endorsements, etc.? I said, ‘What are they?’ Within a week, I managed to get a marvellous endorsement from Trent Dalton (just before he became a literary celebrity!), as well as a few other authors.

How involved have you been in the development of your books? My first book was self-published, so I was very involved. With my latest book I was also very involved. There was not much editing, although the editor wanted much of the last two chapters left out. I fought back and we reached a compromise, and the result was perfect. I gave feedback for the cover and was given a choice with the photographs: whether to have more in-text or less photos in a glossy section. I spent a month writing a damn blurb, and then they used Trent’s endorsement for the blurb itself!

What’s the best aspect of your writing life? Can I have two? I just love hearing from readers of my books or articles. I never write to authors and am gobsmacked by the letters and emails I receive. In fact, the feedback from readers of an article I wrote, inspired me to write my latest book. And I just love it when words come out of nowhere and they are perfect.

—the worst? My deluded mind. Those times when I think what I have written is great, and it is not. I spent a month working on a creative non-fiction essay and did multiple drafts. I sent it to my editor friend who said it was terrible and that it read like a report. I was crushed. Then, out of nowhere, the first few sentences appeared in my mind. I rewrote it within hours, and re-sent it to my friend, who said that’s more like the Mary I know.

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? I’d like to think I’d be more disciplined and sit down every day and write. My brother-in-law, Maurice Gee, is a celebrated author, a household name in New Zealand. He went to his den every day to write and my sister went to work! Mind you, they’ve struggled financially, whereas I’ve gone out and done other things. For many years I’ve worked part-time in our family bicycle business.

What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author?  I did not set out to become an author or a freelance journalist. I just felt compelled to write. I can’t honestly think of anything I wish I’d been told. Except, don’t do that creative writing course at university. That, for me, was such a waste of time.

What’s the best advice you were ever given? Just write. Anything. Do a dump.

How important is social media to you as an author? I only use Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. I did have an author’s page on Facebook but deleted it, as I was not doing regular posts. I prefer Twitter, as I did my PhD thesis, in part, on Twitter. But I’m using Instagram more lately, and just cross-posting to Facebook.

Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? Yes. I don’t do anything. I just don’t write.

How do you deal with rejection? Pretty good. I pick myself up quickly and try again. If I get good feedback, that is almost as good as acceptance. I was thrilled to bits to get a rejection from Catherine Milne, HarperCollins. She was the first person to read my manuscript, and really enjoyed it – she said it was ‘elegantly written’ – but could not convince the sales team. I knew then that my writing was not crap and it made me determined to find a home for my story.

In three words, how would you describe your writing? Easy to read

If you had the chance to spend an hour with any writer of your choice, living or dead, who would it be and what would you most like them to tell you about living a writing life? Helen Garner. I would like to know more about her writing process. How does she know when something is good? How often the muse comes and sits on her shoulder.

BOOK BYTE

Sundowner of the Skies

Mary Garden

In the early morning of 16 October 1930, a young man taxied his tiny Gipsy Moth across the Croydon aerodrome in the grey light and, with a wave of his hand to the only person there to farewell him, took off. On his feet he wore carpet slippers and he had half a dozen sandwiches on his lap. His plan was to fly to Australia, which was sheer madness as he only had a mere 39 flying hours under his belt.

Miraculously, he survived in spite of several forced landings. When he landed at Wyndham in 18 days later no one was expecting him. The press dubbed him ‘Sundowner of the Skies’. Sundowner describes an Australian swagman who arrives unexpectedly out of nowhere on sundown, and disappears the next morning.

His flight – the third fastest after veteran aviators Bert Hinkler and Charles Kingsford – captured the world’s imagination due to its casualness. With a lack of fanfare, he had given the impression he had just set out on a short pleasure trip, instead of the most formidable feat in aerial navigation.

The casual flyer was Oscar Garden (1903-1997). Remarkably, he was one of the few survivors of those early years of long-distance flying – most died in crashes – and went on to a career in commercial aviation in England. In 1940 he delivered the luxurious Short flying boat Awarua to Auckland for Tasman Empire Airways Limited. In 1943 he became their Chief Pilot, but left suddenly in 1947. He became a tomato grower and never flew a plane again.

Sundowner of the Skies is a deeply personal study told by his daughter Mary Garden. This book is her journey of discovery. Until recently, she knew little about her father’s life as an aviator. As well as digging up his amazing flying adventures, she uncovers his tumultuous childhood in the far north of Scotland, the ghosts of his past, which he could not escape. And shines a light on the intergenerational trauma that impacted her own life.

Follow this link to buy the book:

http://newhollandpublishers.com/skies/

 

 

 

Tea, teamwork and pets of all kinds

Welcome to a new year and an interview with a difference. Penny Reeve and Cecily Anne Paterson write The Pet Sitters series together as Ella Shine and it was my pleasure to chat with them both about why they write, how they came up with the series and some of the challenges involved in their creative collaboration.

Ella Shine LOVES pets of all kinds. She lives in Sydney, Australia with her three cats, four bunnies, parakeet, bearded dragon and an imaginary ant farm for company. When she’s not writing stories for children she can be found dreaming up adventures and hunting for the unexpected with at least one of her pets in tow!

When she’s not writing as Ella Shine, Penny writes as Penny Reeve or Penny Jaye and is the author of more than 20 books for children and older readers. She’s an experienced writing workshop leader, conference presenter and writing coach with a particular interest in equipping children’s writers. You can learn more about Penny at www.pennyjaye.com and www.pennyreeve.com

Award-winning novelist Cecily Anne Paterson writes ‘braveheart’ fiction for girls aged 9-14. She grew up in Pakistan where she went to boarding school in the Himalayan mountains, and now lives with her family on Sydney’s beautiful Northern Beaches. She’s a freelance editor and writer, an engaging speaker and presenter, a reluctant housekeeper, and an aspiring, but average cellist. See www.cecilypaterson.com

AUTHOR INSIGHTS

Why do you write?

Penny: Writing is how I explore ideas and issues, but I also love the joy and power of story and finding ways to communicate to an audience through words.

Cecily: It’s annoying, but I can’t not write. It’s a compulsion I’ve had my whole life since I was eight and sat down and wrote newspapers about what was going on in our family. (They weren’t very interesting.)

What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer?

Penny: I’d probably be doing what I already do when I’m not writing: being a stay-at-home mum trying to find ways to make a living with my creativity. Or I’d find myself in a teaching role of some sort, but probably not full-time classroom teaching. I love working with kids.

Cecily: I have very inferior skills, but I’d like to be a full-time musician. Failing that, I wouldn’t mind running a fancy op shop. Being realistic, I suppose I’d probably settle down to being a teacher or working in administration.

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published?

Penny: When I first started out, I struggled to find a publisher who published the genre I wrote in. Plus, my writing wasn’t that great. So I needed to improve my craft while at the same time getting creative about finding the right publisher.

Cecily: Same as Penny. Craft, creativity and finding ways to get past rejection. I was encouraged early on by an editor from Penguin Books who liked my first novel and suggested ways to make it better, so I rewrote it with enthusiasm. Unfortunately, they didn’t take it in the end, but it gave me some assurance that I wasn’t simply a deluded, talentless hack.

The Pet Sitters junior fiction series is a collaborative project. How did that come about?

Cecily: We were talking about children’s books, as we are prone to do, and one, particular, massively successful series for eight-year olds. I think I may have uttered the words, ‘We could write those,’ and the vision grew legs.

Penny: It was also a great project to have on the go during 2020 as it required us to work together and have a sense of writing connection even when many other writing opportunities were slowing down.

Walk us through the process, please. How did that work? Were there specific challenges?

Penny: We decided early on that we wanted to write the books together with both of us having equal creative input. We began with a planning day where we sat and drank tea and plotted the stories. Then we took turns to write the first draft chapters, using our plan as a guide. It was immensely fun but was also quite challenging, especially at the beginning as we have very different natural writing styles.

Cecily: To be fair, we drank a lot of tea. And even before we started on the story plans, we did a lot of work on intended audience, the length of the books, and the different elements we wanted to include. We created the characters in detail before they even set foot in a story. We also created the author character of ‘Ella Shine’. It seemed too cumbersome to have both our names on the front cover, so we made up something far more memorable. You can read more about us here: https://puddledogpress.com/about

How involved have you both been in the development of your books? Did you have input into the cover and illustrations?

Penny: Because we decided to independently publish these books, we took ownership of the entire project. This meant we needed to source and contract an illustrator for the project. Thankfully, Lisa Flanagan was interested, and her style really complements the stories.

Cecily: Penny and I are both honest enough to know where our talents and experience lie and there was a neat, natural division of labour in creating this series. It’s a great example of the  whole being greater than the sum of its parts. Working together, we’ve achieved more than we thought we could. (For example, Penny was smart enough to apply for government funding for audiobooks, which we received. Adding the amazing voice narration skills of Suzanne Ellis to the project has made it even better. Check out our audiobooks here. https://puddledogpress.com/pet-sitters-news/cot8kp5zvuay7fkq1m8ignczlzfeq5 )

What’s the best aspect of your writing life?

Penny: I love the creative stage of writing; the freedom of the first draft. But I also love the final product and being able to interact with students and readers when the book is finished. I suppose because audience is always my focus, I love seeing how people response to the books I write.

Cecily: Finishing. I get to the middle of a book and feel like poking my eyes out, it’s so hard. I like ending, and editing, and then later, reading what I wrote. (Also, I like fan mail. Especially the emails where they tell you that my books made them cry… in a good way.)

—the worst?

Penny: Rejections are never fun. One of my books (Our of the Cages) was rejected 11 times before it found a publisher, but it went on to win an award so the extra time and effort probably paid off.

Cecily: Yeah. Same as Penny. Rejection by publishers, and rejection by readers in the form of bad reviews. My skin is thickish, but it still hurts.

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer?

Penny: I’d tell myself to relax and take my time, to learn as much as I could, but also to have realistic expectations. Being a writer in Australia is hard work and statistically doesn’t pay well. I’d probably also tell myself to go do a basic marketing course!

Cecily: I’d study genre, figure out what’s selling and write that! (Money to pay the bills does help in life…) Also, I’d work hard on my craft and join a critique group sooner than I did.

What’s the best advice you were ever given?

Penny: Don’t send your manuscript to all the publishers at the same time. Suzanne Gervay once said this to me after I admitted I admitted I’d sent my story to five publishers. She advised me to send out sparingly to allow time and space to rework in between. And she was right. I’ve been doing that ever since.

Cecily: I’m not sure if this was said to me, or if I made it up myself, but it’s this: you can’t expect most people around you to care about the books you write. Your audience is out there somewhere, but it probably isn’t your family or even your friends. If you live or die by the praise of the people immediately around you, you won’t keep living as a writer.

What’s your top tip for aspiring authors?

Penny: Learn, read and write. Never think you’ve learned or read everything you need to. We can always learn more both about our craft and the work of others. But at the same time, don’t stop writing!

Cecily: Start a blog. Write and publish something small every day. Read other people’s work and pull it apart. Why did they do it this way? What makes this good or bad? If you grew up reading anything written before the 1980s, know that writing has changed. You can’t write something in the style that you loved as a kid: it doesn’t work anymore. Get a handle on close third person point of view, or your work will never even get looked at.

How important is social media to you as an author?

Penny: Social media is probably quite important for authors, but I’ll admit it doesn’t come naturally to me. I’m active on Facebook but not on many other platforms as I find it too much to keep up with. For the Pet Sitters stories, we use Facebook quite a lot because it’s a useful took for interacting with our readers’ parents and teachers.  https://www.facebook.com/puddledogpress

Cecily:  Facebook = my alternate existence. Instagram = I do it because the cool kids are there. Linked In = boring, but I’m there because, you know… Twitter = runs screaming from the room. Everything else: I’m too old to know what it is or how to use it.

Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it?

Penny: I very rarely experience the blank page writers block, but I do sometimes face the editing version of writers’ block where I don’t know what or how to improve my manuscript. If this happens I might go back to my planning stage, do some mind mapping on my characters or seek the advice of a trusted writing friend or writing ‘how-to’ book. I also try to get back to the fun, or the heart, of the project I’m working on as that seems to help break through the ‘stuck’ stage.

Cecily: Extremely rarely. If I’ve planned my story properly, I just write what’s in the plan. Occasionally I get scared of my characters and can’t write them. Sometimes I get discouraged and think, ‘this is rubbish, I’m rubbish, and no one is going to read it,’ but I force myself to write two thousand words anyway. I figure I can always fix it later. You can’t fix a blank page.

How do you deal with rejection?

Penny: I get really down, eat lots of chocolate, wonder why I’m writing and consider giving up altogether. But a couple of days later I pick myself up, remember how much I love the story I’ve been working on and get back to it!

Cecily: Chocolate.

In three words, how would you describe your writing?

Penny: I’d probably describe my writing as topical, relatable and fun. Ella Shine is possibly more playful and less serious than my other writing!

Cecily: Character-driven, dialogue-rich, lots of sub-text. Like Penny, Ella Shine is more light-hearted and fun than my usual middle grade and YA novels.

If you had the chance to spend an hour with any writer of your choice, living or dead, who would it be and what would you most like them to tell you about living a writing life?

Penny: I’d love to have a chat with Kate Dicamillo. I’d like to hear how she holds and weighs the hard parts of her writing with the lightness and hope of children’s literature. I’d be interested in it technically (her writing process) but also emotionally (how she processes the balance).

Cecily: I’d like to hang with a literary legend like Anne Tyler and find out if truly exceptional writing (the sort I get jealous of) can only happen for introverted, thoughtful, eccentric types who don’t have to keep ahead of the schedules of four children and who have someone else doing the washing and the cooking and the cleaning. Can you be a great writer/artist if you’re also a regular parent-at-home without long periods of reflection and solitude? It doesn’t seem to happen for me.

BOOK BYTE

Need a pet sitter? Cassie and Lina are the girls for the task… as long as Gus the talking cat can keep out of trouble!

Best friends Cassie and Lina would love to take a pet to the Pet Parade but it’s not possible… until they’re asked to pet sit Gus the cat next door. The girls might be ‘ready for anything’ but Gus isn’t quite the cat they were expecting.

Looking for an engaging, fun junior series with great values, gorgeous characters and hilarious action, with a sprinkling of the unexpected? Welcome to the Pet Sitters.

Pet Sitters Website: www.puddledogpress.com

Store site: https://puddledogpress.com/store

Meet the Author: Tobias MCorkell

Tobias’s top tip for aspiring authors: Don’t look for ‘tips’ or advice; cultivate your own practice.

Tobias McCorkell is a writer and academic whose fiction and non-fiction interrogate the class, gender and generational divides of Australian culture. He also writes light non-fiction, humour and gift books under the name Tobias Anthony.

The manuscript for Tobias’s first novel, Barely Anything, was awarded the University of Melbourne/Affirm Press Prize for Creative Writing in 2015. In 2018, Tobias appeared at the Melbourne Emerging Writer’s Festival. In 2019, he was accepted into residency programs both domestically and internationally, including a Varuna Residency Fellowship and a Leighton Artists Studios Residency at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity in Canada.

Tobias has been teaching creative writing at the University of Melbourne since 2012.

Find out more about Tobias at https://www.tobiasmccorkell.com/

AUTHOR INSIGHT

Why do you write? To tell the truth and connect with people. I’m mostly dissatisfied with how people interact with one another, there’s always a barrier, but writing strips that barrier away and the possibilities for connection and intimacy – even with strangers, with people who you’ve never met – are suddenly limitless.

What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? I’d like to open a florist, or at least work in one. Probably, though, I’d be a schoolteacher like everyone else in my family.

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? Time. There’s just no way around it but getting to the required skill/competency level takes about ten years or more, and years of persistent effort. Except for a few freaks or ‘young’ authors being exploited by publishers keen to trade in on youth or some novelty aspect of their identity, the vast majority of people aren’t publishing in their twenties.  

How involved have you been in the development of your book? Did you have input into the cover? Really involved! I’m lucky being published by Transit Lounge, because they were keen to see me publish the book I wanted to publish, and so I felt supported during the editing process and like I was in control of the situation. This doesn’t always happen, so I’ve had a dream run with this book, though I’d say it comes down to how professionally you behave and how well you understand your novel as well as the industry. And yes, I helped design the cover – it was almost exactly as I imagined – so I’m to blame if you dislike it.  

What’s the best aspect of your writing life? Getting to write. It’s all I want to do, really, apart from watch horror movies and read. If I could find a way to make money off the other two, I’d be set.

—the worst? The administrative tasks: emails, applying for grants/funding/residencies, submitting your work, doing Q+As (just kidding!), etc. It takes more time than it ought to, and mostly your applications are rejected anyway, so it can really feel like a waste, plus it eats into your concentration and focus on the ‘real’ stuff – the writing itself. 

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? I would’ve spent less time writing and more time reading and trusted that Time would take care of the rest. I wasted precious years stressing about the quality of my work and wondering if/when I’d be published. If I’d been less career-driven I would’ve had space for other things, too, like prioritising my own happiness, which means I would likely have left my relationship a long time before it ended … Too dark?

What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? I’m really not sure about this one … I can’t stress the importance of becoming a good editor enough and learning the ropes on the technical side of things. But I was always told this and just never listened. But then, my focus was elsewhere, and I got a handle on that part eventually.

What’s the best advice you were ever given? I was once asked ‘What’s a voice that isn’t being voiced?’ and it’s always stuck with me as a way towards conceptualising what I want to do next. My writing isn’t especially original, I’m a fairly traditional writer in some respects, but I can aim to be good and to write something I’d like to read that perhaps isn’t readily available.

How important is social media to you as an author? Not very, though I do tweet relevant information if I have anything to promote and have, only this month, created a Facebook account to do likewise. But I don’t have a big following and doubt it’s of much use. I can’t get past the long-held belief that social media is a disease for the mind, adopted by depressives and the undertalented in a bid for underserved attention. 

Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? Not really, I think it’s a bit of a myth, a bit like that one about how everybody has a book in them. I think most people don’t have a book in them, and these are probably the same people walking around convinced they’re suffering from writer’s block. Regardless, planning helps – writers should spend about as much time simply thinking about their project and planning as they do writing.

How do you deal with rejection? Booze and good conversation; so, hitting a bar with a mate or date. Sex, too, if I can get it.

In three words, how would you describe your writing? Oh. My. God …

If you had the chance to spend an hour with any writer of your choice, living or dead, who would it be and what would you most like them to tell you about living a writing life? Jean Rhys. And only on the condition that we wouldn’t waste a single second talking about writing.  

BOOK BYTE

Everything in its Right Place

Tobias McCorkell

Coburg, Melbourne. Ford McCullen is growing up with hismother Deidre and his Pop and Noonie in ‘The Compound’, a pair of units in the shadow of Pentridge prison. His father, Robert, has left them to live in the bush with his new male partner. Nobody is coping.
When Ford’s paternal grandmother Queenie’s good fortune allows him to attend a prestigious Catholic private school on the other side of the river and to learn the violin, Ford finds himself balancing separate identities. At school he sees himself being moulded into an image that is not his own, something at odds with the rough and tumble of his beloved north.
Crumbling under the weight of his family’s expectations and realising that he just might be the only adult amongst them, Ford embarks on a quest for meaning while navigating the uncomfortable realities of his father’s life, his mother’s ongoing crisis, and the pillars of football and religion, delving
ever deeper into a fraught search for the source of the ‘McCullen curse’.
Everything in its Right Place tackles themes of class, love and sexuality with humour, truth and grit. It is a story of the legacies and dilemmas that families bring, of how we all must find our own way.

Buy the book: https://transitlounge.com.au/shop/everything-right-place/

Meet the Author: Barry Lee Thompson

Barry’s top tip for aspiring authors: Be patient. The literary industry moves very slowly. Do your research on publishers, and take the time to get your approach right before sending your manuscript out. Find a publisher that you know will look after and respect your work. Take risks, be brave. And don’t be discouraged by rejection.

Photo by Damjan Janevski.

Barry Lee Thompson was born in Liverpool in the UK. After studying art history at the University of East Anglia, he moved to London. He lives in Melbourne, Australia. His short stories are published in Australia, the UK, and the USA, and have been recognised in awards including the Bridport Prize, The Age Short Story Award, and the Overland Victoria University Short Story Prize. His work appears frequently in Roomers magazine. He is a member of Elwood Writers, and of the Alumni Association of Varuna, the National Writers’ House. Broken Rules and Other Stories (Transit Lounge, September 2020) is his first collection of fiction. The book is supported by the Victorian Government through Creative Victoria, and by Varuna, the National Writers’ House.

Find out more here: www.barryleethompson.com

AUTHOR INSIGHT

Why do you write? Because I’m inquisitive and I always want to see what happens. Writing is a way to slow things down, to examine them closely.

What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? I’d probably be wishing I were a writer.

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? Doubts about the viability of short-story collections. When I first started writing the stories in Broken Rules, there was talk of the demise of short fiction. And it was suggested in some quarters that readers might be disinclined to buy short-story collections not by a familiar author. Fortunately, there are publishers and readers out there who are willing to take a chance on new authors.

How involved have you been in the development of your book? Did you have input into the cover? Transit Lounge has been terrific in keeping me involved and informed throughout the production process. I was given a choice of covers, and we discussed these and came to an easy consensus. Publishers are in the business of book production and understanding the marketplace. Transit Lounge is a successful independent press. I was familiar with their list from the very beginning, so I knew my book was in the best hands.

What’s the best aspect of your writing life? Being responsible for my own time. Being able to escape into the page. And I love how reading is part of the job, and that sometimes the answer to a writing problem can come from walking, or from just staring into space. I like sitting still.

—the worst? The precariousness can sometimes be terrifying.

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? Nothing, probably. It’s been useful to go down a few wrong paths, to make mistakes and learn from them. Nothing’s a waste of time. But maybe that’s a boring answer. Perhaps I’d try to worry less.

What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? I wish I’d been shown how to find the opportunities in rejections, to learn how to move on quickly and not be discouraged by them.

What’s the best advice you were ever given? Keep your mind on the work. Cultivate gratitude for the people who take time to read your work.

How important is social media to you as an author? Other than a blog, which I treat more like a website, I don’t use social media. I deleted my accounts a few years ago. It was becoming too consuming. I don’t doubt social media has its benefits when used thoughtfully, but it’s not for everyone. I like the peace and freedom that comes from being unplugged.

Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? I don’t think I’ve experienced it. This may be to do with the way I write. I don’t sit down for lengthy periods in front of a page, but dip in and out through the day. Writing is a series of problems. I walk a lot, and think a lot, and sit and daydream, and ideas and solutions arrive in those moments. It’s all work because it’s all part of the process. A blank page can be an exciting thing, but sometimes it’s easier to visit an existing piece of work. Because I write short pieces, I’ve got hundreds on the go at any one time. I just have to delve into my files and open up a few documents, and before long I’ll stumble across a story I want to work on. If a story isn’t going anywhere, I file it away, sometimes until years later, then choose another page, blank or otherwise.

How do you deal with rejection? Rejection is cruel, but it’s all in the game, and everyone experiences it. I’ve found rejections often come in twos or threes, compounding the impact. Over time I’ve learned to understand them a bit better, and now they roll off more easily. It’s helpful to have some awareness of what might lie behind a rejection, and reframe it. A rejection is a decision made at a particular time by a particular person about a particular piece of work. All three of those are variables. The decision means the work wasn’t right for that occasion, but it will find its home, eventually. Rejection as opportunity. It’s easier said than done, though.

In three words, how would you describe your writing? Let me think.

If you had the chance to spend an hour with any writer of your choice, living or dead, who would it be and what would you most like them to tell you about living a writing life? Samuel Beckett. I’d be interested in hearing his views on social media.

BOOK BYTE

Broken Rules and Other Stories

Barry Lee Thompson

These awards-listed, interlinked stories vividly capture the
small, rarely spoken moments of our lives that reverberate
with meaning, with darkness and with light. An adolescent
son and his parents on their annual holiday at a Bournemouth
guesthouse become intrigued with the glamour and
otherness of an American family from Boston. An adult son
and his mother navigate an unnerving relationship based on
dependence and ritual. A woman transgresses her husband’s
rules and his distaste for parties. A sex-worker empathises with
the life of an elderly client. From derelict industrial districts, to
a lonely highway diner, to the faded charm of a British seaside
resort, these are stories of growing up marginalised and living
in working-class England and Australia.

The book is available here.

 

 

Meet the Author: Claire Fitzpatrick

Claire’s top tip for aspiring authors: Write what you know, and be honest in your writing. Put your heart and soul into your writing. It’ll make for a more intriguing and realistic story.

Claire Fitzpatrick is a visual artist, performance artist, and award-winning author of speculative fiction and non-fiction. Called ‘Australia’s Queen Of Body Horror’, she enjoys writing about anatomy and the darker side of humanity. Her collection Metamorphosis from IFWG Publishing, was hailed as ‘simply heroic’, ‘graphic, disturbing, honest’, and ‘nothing short of a masterpiece’. She lives with her fiancé, the spray-paint artist Misery Ink Design, and their weird goblin kids somewhere in Queensland. Claire is currently working on a gory dark fantasy novella about shapeshifters and a non-fiction project on Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley.

You can find out more about her on her website and social media:

Website: www.clairefitzpatrick.net

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/witch.of.eldritch

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/throughaglass_darkly91/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/CJFitzpatrick91

AUTHOR INSIGHT

Why do you write?  Writing has always been the most stable thing in my life, and I honestly don’t really know what else to do with myself. I have a bachelor degree in Government and International Relations, a Postgraduate Certificate in Writing, Editing, and Publishing (the latter quite boring to complete, to be honest), and I started a Masters degree in Health and Rehabilitation Sciences before being fired. That was crap. But writing has always been there for me, to lift me up when I’m down, and to remind me it’s OK to fail at things because at least it’s something I excel in. I write because it’s cathartic, and it’s the only way I can express my feelings. I’m really bad at expressing my feelings. Ask my fiancé. (We’re getting married in two weeks. Gosh. That’s scary).

 What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? No idea. I’m constantly reinventing myself, though I suspect it’s part of my mental illness (I have Borderline Personality Disorder). Over the past seven years, I’ve worked in government, retail, hospitality, vocational education, journalism (news, radio, and music), human resources, and marketing. I find it really hard to keep a job or stick to a profession, and writing has been what’s grounded me. I’m really into gardening. Maybe I’ll work in horticulture? The possibilities are endless. I am, however, a performance artist and comedian (I’ll work a gig once every two or three months). That, along with my writing, have been the most stable aspects of my ‘career.’ Let me know what you think I should do next.

 What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? My first professional horror publication was in 2015. However, I had four comedy stories published in 2013, a poetry chapbook published in 2012, and a poem commended in the Dorothea Mackellar Poetry Competition in 2002 (I think I was 12). But the initial success of being published in a professional horror magazine was, at first, hard to replicate. I felt like I had to be 100% better than I needed to be and held myself at an unreasonably high standard. It was a really difficult time for me. I always had to try harder, be better. It was only when I actually relaxed and wrote something uniquely personal that I overcame the fear of being a ‘one-hit-wonder’ kind of writer and went on to have several more publications. So, the toughest obstacle was and still continues to be me.

How involved have you been in the development of your book? Did you have input into the cover? Luckily, I had the opportunity to work with my cover artist, as we’ve collaborated in the past. Greg Chapman is an amazingly talented artist. Not only did he work with me on my idea for the cover of Metamorphosis, but he also designed and physically created the cover of my award-winning non-fiction anthology The Body Horror Book. Greg listened to me and slightly altered his design to suit my wishes, which I’m so grateful for. I’m excited to work with him again, as he designed the cover of my upcoming anthology A Vindication Of Monsters, a non-fiction book on Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley (submissions are open –get in contact with me for details!). You can find Greg at www.darkscrybe.com/ (his writing website) and www.darkartiste.wordpress.com/ (his artist website). Greg is superbly talented! It’s always an honour to collaborate with him.

What’s the best aspect of your writing life? Not having to leave the house. Joking! I love the fact that people appreciate my imagination. I love that they enjoy reading what I have to say about myself, and the world. I love that I’m accepted for who I am, and what I write.

—the worst? I’m poor! Haha Don’t become a writer and expect to make money. Unless you’re a crime writer and extort people.

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? I think I’d try not to beat myself up over stories that aren’t accepted. I’d say, “Hey Claire, there are going to be some stories that just aren’t at the highest calibre they could be. Sometimes you get lazy when you’re in a slump. Also, it’s OK if you’re in a slump. That’s just how writing works. Additionally, stop thinking you’re a fraud. You’re being stupid and need to snap out of it.”

What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? Writing is a personal journey; you’re either successful or you’re not. But I’d like to have been told that it’s completely fine to not be published by the ‘big five’ publishing houses because it doesn’t mean you’re not a good writer. I’ve been fortunate enough to be published by a well-respected and high calibre Australian speculative fiction and children’s fiction publisher. I’m sure I would have been upset if my manuscript had been rejected, but it’s perfectly fine to have to keep trying. You can’t always be successful on your first go. Sometimes you just need to work at it. It’s very rare for people to become instantly successful.

What’s the best advice you were ever given? A few years ago, I was completing a creative non-fiction course at university, and I was finding it hard to figure out what to write about for my major project. Then my teacher told me it’s always best to write what you know, write what you feel strongly about, your passions, what makes you angry, what makes you depressed. Write something that is uniquely your story to tell, whether it be fiction or creative non-fiction. Personally, I think it’s important to be honest in your writing. Only you can tell your story. Write about you.

How important is social media to you as an author? Most of the people in my Facebook friends list are fellow writers. I have a Twitter account, but I don’t use it much. I think it’s important to use social media to connect with fellow writers. Find your tribe. You’ll grow as a writer, and as a person. Trust me.

Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? All the time. I’ve been writing a novella for about three years now, and I just can’t seem to finish it. It’s pissing me off. I go to write and…. nothing. But I tend to get writers’ block with larger projects, as opposed to short fiction. Saying that I have several unfinished short stories that I’ve neglected because I have no idea how to finish them. It’s hard to give advice on how to overcome writers’ block since I think many people overcome it in different ways. Something I do, which is helpful, is write non-fiction if I’m stuck on fiction, and vice-versa. So, I’d always recommend people do that. At the moment I’m pretty fucking (can I swear?) depressed, as my father has terminal cancer, and I’ve been writing like crazy. But I have a feeling I’ll get writers’ block after he passes. That’s the way life is, I suppose. I’m not sure how I’ll overcome that.

How do you deal with rejection? Sometimes, it hits me hard. I tell myself I’m shit and worthless and that my success won’t last. But that’s the borderline personality disorder talking. I’m quite a ridiculous person. But after a while I’ll write something new, and it’ll be accepted, and that makes me feel better. Sometimes I paint or tend to my plants. That’s always helpful. When I’m feeling better, I remind myself I’m 29, and a lot of people aren’t professionally published, or win an award/awards until they are older. I just happened to become relatively successful in my field in my twenties. So, rejection is OK. Just have to keep your chin up.

In three words, how would you describe your writing? Bloody. Grotesque. Honest.

If you had the chance to spend an hour with any writer of your choice, living or dead, who would it be and what would you most like them to tell you about living a writing life? Clive Barker. After I read his work I immediately wanted to write body horror, and the first body horror story I wrote was my first professional publication. I’d just want to say thank you for helping me find my niche. I’d then ask him to tell me how to finish my damned novella, and how I can balance my writing life with my ‘real’ life. Actually, if anyone can tell me how to do that, that’d be swell.

BOOK BYTE

Metamorphosis

by Claire Fitzpatrick

Madeline will never become a woman. William will never become a man. Does June deserve to be human? Does Lilith deserve a heart?

Seventeen stories. Seventeen tales of terror.

If imperfection is crucial to a society’s survival, what makes a monster?

Buy the book here: https://www.amazon.com.au/Metamorphosis-Collection-Stories-Claire-Fitzpatrick/dp/1925956040

Meet the Author: JD Murphy

John’s top tip for aspiring authors: Read Steven King’s excellent memoir/coaching guide called ‘On writing.’

John D Murphy is an Australian author based in Queensland, He has had a lifelong attraction to storytelling; from stories ranging across family entertainment skits as a child, to turning his life into story as an art of understanding his adult purpose. This first of his novels is, above all, designed to entertain readers and he hopes they will be open to the tale he has crafted within.

AUTHOR INSIGHT

Why do you write?  For the pleasure which writing affords me.

What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer?  Teaching and travelling – preferably together.

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published?  Finding ‘that’ publisher who operates between the big end of town and the self-publishing domains.

How involved have you been in the development of your book? Did you have input into the cover? With respect to the development, I have had full engagement. With respect to the cover, I suggested some themes which I considered important; then a creative interpreted those ideas with required commercial focus. I was very pleased with the results.

What’s the best aspect of your writing life? Taking a fleeting dream sequence and turning it into a kind of reality which will appeal to a reader.

—the worst? 1. Constant interruptions by cats whose dominant thoughts are that I should be focused on them rather than writing. 2. Covid 19 chaos for grounding the launch of my first novel in April 2020.

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? Dream less and read more.

What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? To read Steven King’s excellent memoir/coaching guide called ‘On writing.’

What’s the best advice you were ever given? Writers write; Authors publish.

How important is social media to you as an author? I am a shy, retiring, outgoing, loquacious type who really has to have something of substance to say before engaging with SM.

Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? Never been a problem. Nor talking incessantly, as my dear wife and close friends would earnestly confirm.

How do you deal with rejection (of a manuscript)? Just the same as any other bump I have had on my life’s paths. Identify the issues and address them. Only happened once, because I had far too many typographical errors in the manuscript to be considered seriously. Having fixed said typographical errors with some stiff editing, I submitted to a Melbourne publishing house and the rest is going to be history.

In three words, how would you describe your writing? Engaging. Relevant. Reflective.

If you had the chance to spend an hour with any writer of your choice, living or dead, who would it be and what would you most like them to tell you about living a writing life? David H Richter. Falling into Theory (1994). I would be pleased for this author to expand on those of his words which told me that I was going to walk on a writing path.

‘If in my life I have developed any ability to understand those who are other than me, other in race or gender or culture or sexual practice, a good deal of my training in empathy must have come from the practice fiction and poetry have given me in taking on other selves, other lives.’

BOOK BYTE

The Arbor girls are a force to be reckoned with

Maeve Fossard, a nurse during the bombings of Bristol in WW1 wants to escape the pain and suffering around her. A trip to a pub and a chance meeting with a stranger named Colin, changes her life. The shadow world of spies and politics becomes a reality.

Through two World Wars, the Cold War and into the Sixties; from England to Australia, she encounters ultimate highs and soul sapping lows.

Every action has consequences. Her companions, Margaret and Allison, their fates entwined, join a rich tapestry of characters, in her endeavours to create an invisible dynasty of social reform which will continue through to the future and span the globe…

“A fantastic read from a new Australian Author who has a flair for the period of such a wonderful storyline…authentic and moving with beautiful nuances and themes…5 Stars…”  Gail, IndieBooks Reviewer.